MAGA- Really! or Machiavelli is Not the Path

“Make America Great Again” has been the slogan for the last four years…and there’s nothing wrong with it, we can still use it, we just need to have a better idea of what GREAT is. 

We have been, and still are a great people.  We the people, the real nation, as individuals, still send help whenever bad things happen to other human beings, an earthquake, a hurricane, a drought, Americans, by the thousands open their wallets…and by the hundreds like the members of Team Rubicon

( )  or the Red Cross Volunteers, hop on planes to help.

Most communities are served by volunteer fire departments, people willing to invest their time to serve a community that often doesn’t know the investment they make. Pro bono lawyers trying to help people in a bind. We are moved to help.

Somewhere along the line though, our leaders seem to have lost every shred of their idealism in favor of party politics and self-interest.  The “Make America Great Again” movement led by our recent President was a wave of “America first” that could never usher in an era of greatness.  Think about when our nation was truly great, during the Marshall Plan after WWII, in the 60’s with the Great Society and the Peace Corp (in spite of its political baggage).  We have been our greatest, even our most prosperous when we have been the most generous.  There is not a time when grasping and covetousness has led to our greatness or our prosperity.

Our ideals, what we think as Americans we are about, generosity, innovation, justice, mercy; these are all things that have to be paid for. Corporate America, or Corporate World, wants us to believe Globalism is the answer, but it’s a race to the bottom. If we want to be great we need to pay for the things we make, a living wage for all products we buy, compensation for “down winders,” pollution control both at home and in the third world where we like to make messy things.  American interests should be an interest in people, not cheap raw materials or processing, not sweat shop products. We should be willing to pay a fair price for what we buy and that should include a fair return, trying to charge all you can, or trying to pay as little as possible only penalizes the desperate, the desperate business, the desperate consumer, or the desperate worker.

Machiavelli played the short game and was uninterested in the human cost, much like one of our recent presidents and many of our congressional representatives, only interested in short term points for their party.  We need to work for the long game, we need to care. 

So let’s dust off the plaque in the Statue of Liberty, let’s take our eyes off the dollar, the party, the self-interest, and let’s make America great again.

What’s the Score

The last question for the 2020 Vice Presidential debates was from an 8th grader.  “When I watch the news, all I see is arguing between Democrats and Republicans. When I watch the news, all I see is citizen fighting against citizen. When I watch the news, all I see is two candidates from opposing parties try to tear each other down. If our leaders can’t get along, how are our citizens supposed to get along?” Both of the candidates’ answers were that through free and open debate, we find the path.

Good Answers. This IS true, it worked for 200 years and It got me wondering how we’ve gone off the rails.  We still have free and open debate, but today we never seem to get anywhere.  I think it’s because, in the past, we would argue, discuss and disagree, but when there was some consensus we would act, and both sides of the argument would hope things would work out.  If it was wrong we would fix it, if it was right we would all prosper.  We would work together…even if we disagreed.

Today it seems that we have the argue, discuss and disagree part down, but there is as much or more effort to make sure that anything from the other “team” doesn’t result in any “points,”  even if it would be good for the country.  The parties’ scores are taking precedence over the good of the people.  It’s a game and we aren’t even the pieces, we are the board.


If you’re drinking your coffee this morning and certain news reports leave you feeling like a chump for paying, really paying, your taxes think of it this way, without those of us who pay there would be none of the things we really treasure in our country, free libraries, good roads (though some are gooder than others), public education, airports, scientific research.  So rather than feeling like a chump feel proud that you’ve done your part. 

Certain wealthy individuals who think that they’ve done it all themselves seem to feel entitled to have a right to avoid paying for the transportation system that carries their good, or the airports that handle their private jets, or the education system that supplies their qualified workers.  They also don’t appreciate that without dedicated workers they just have a nice building.  I’ve always felt, and tried to share with anyone who will listen, that the janitor is just as important as the engineer or CEO for that matter. The janitor is not there because you are an entitled individual and above such work, they are there so you can do what you are trained to do longer, everyone has a part to pay in a successful endeavor. 

Certain wealth individuals need to remember the way things were when America WAS great.  We worked to provide for our families AND to improve society, it’s not all about the dollars. Making a fine car or a great refrigerator makes society stronger, we trust each other more and can depend upon our neighbors.  An honest day’s work, a fair price, a fair return, these things build up our country.  Taking all the market will allow, squeezing out every dollar and not leaving anything on the table, letting desperation drive up the price, are all ways people are victimized, and it starts to be the norm.  We need to stop the circle. 

One Room Schools?

One of the most important difficulties we face in this age of COVID is school.  Today’s children’s education and by extension their future success, is what will keep old guys like me from having to eat cat food in my dotage.

So how do we do it, how do we get school started again?  Mostly I don’t know, but for here where I live, and maybe in a lot of other rural areas, I have an idea.  We use community centers and mobile classrooms, and whatever’s available and go back to the ultra-local school model…what they used to call the one room school.  It limits mixing and therefore spread.  It Isolates any COVID cases to a smaller exposure, so one parent doesn’t bring it home from his construction job in Baltimore over the weekend and spread it through the whole county by Wednesday through the schools.  We can still use distance learning but that’s not a good option for many students, they need at least some interactions with a teacher.

Expensive? Probably but this has been done in the past so we know it can work, even mixing students (many of them family) had the added advantage of older students helping younger students, no better way to learn than to help someone else learn.  We know it works, and consolidation’s advantages don’t seem so shiny now.  So consider, we can do this as cheaply as possible and then do it again, kind of like the quarantine, or we can try to get it right the first time.  Hire the extra teachers, procure or rent the buildings and go one room.

Just Another Role Playing Game

I’ve been watching the Stock Market…not obsessing, but I do have some skin in the game what with retirement funds and 401K’s and such.  I can see no rhyme or reason for any changes. Oil is down, unemployment is way up, bad news I would expect to depress the market, no effect.  Today, an article says the economy shrank by 4.8%.  Where’s the DOW, up by 2%. So after careful observation I have come to the conclusion that the market is set by this:

Yes, that’s right, the only explanation I can find for Stock Market behavior is that it is an RPG game.  Several times a day they roll for the market, whatever they come up with is what we get.  This certainly makes more sense than some of the “after the fact” analysis we hear.

All that’s left to find out is who’s mom’s basement this happens in, maybe we can get in on the game, or at least get some snacks.

Bailout 2

covid 100

So we might as well get used to the idea that because of COVID 19 we’re going to have to bail out a lot of companies.  I’m not necessarily against that, but I want to talk about the big guys.  At this writing oil is -$40/barrel, yes they will pay you $40 to take a barrel of oil off their hands.  My crystal ball says this eventually will require a bailout, as will the airline situation, as will may other large multinational companies.  I am all for saving jobs and keeping America working but if you’re going to take my tax dollars and give it to a company to save it, I think they should have paid some taxes over the last few years.

How about this, if you need a bailout and your gross revenue is greater than…well pick a number, then your bailout can only be some percent of the average taxes you paid for the last three years.

I don’t know about you, but I pay taxes every year.  I don’t, in my role of taxpayer, share in the profits of these companies when they are booming, it seems ludicrous that I should be seeming to continuously bail these guys out for free whenever they come begging.

As a nation, we need to either share in their profits in the good times as taxes or, when the bottom drops out, you can muddle through as best you can, maybe sell your Jet.


Looks like we’re gonna bail out the airlines…they get our money and we get, um, nuthin.

Well maybe we’ve gotta make a deal.  Maybe they’ll get my tax money but how about no more of this baggage charge nonsense, back to one bag domestic and two bags international, we get rid of most of the carry-on army who get to load first because they can pay more ridiculous fees.

Let’s make it real simple, a seat costs X, has a reasonable amount of legroom, includes a checked bag, and we load by rows with families with children or handicapped first.  How’s that?

This goes back to my blog about what’s wrong with our priorities,  “The Question” and Yo Mama

Provide a service at a reasonable profit and everyone’s happy, provide a service and squeeze every cent you can out of your customers and they just look for an opportunity for paybacks, and maybe here it is.

Have some pretzels.

Stop Trying to Make Biden Happen, or Why Not Bernie, Why Not Warren

So it’s pretty obvious that the high muckity mucks of the Democratic party want Biden to happen, just like they wanted Hillary to happen.  It seems like this is swimming the wrong way in a rip current to me.  Why try to take a colorless candidate like Biden, or even like in 2016, an unpopular candidate like Clinton, and back them to the exclusion of all else?

Ok, last time it was at least partially because they arrogantly thought there was no way the other guy could win…maybe, and maybe this time they are again misreading the depth of fed-up-atude in the voters.  Health care, wage gap, student debt, drug cost, energy…Republican or Democrat, all promises and band aids.

Why back Biden?  My bet is that he is the candidate who has the most to lose by changing the status quo.  He’s gotten money from all the major players, he’s been at this a long time and has never really stood up to big lobby. If you let Bernie Sanders, or Elizabeth Warren run and they win, the apple cart that has been political funding for decades might get upset.  Make no mistake, both parties are working for their parties not the people, they are competing for who get the most lobby slush, not to clean it up.  So what the Democrats what is a nice friendly, middle of the road, well know face with few scandals and is fully invested in the corporate influence machine of the party…not some reckless reformer who might kill the golden goose…and pay no attention to those torches and pitchforks.

Higher Education, No Cost No Value?

I don’t think FREE college education is a good idea.  Making a child work to buy that bike he wants has long been a way of making the child value the bike, they won’t leave it out in the rain if they had to sweat to get it.  I’ve seen too many students who are at the university because it’s what’s next and don’t take it seriously.  I propose that we set the cost to the undergrad student for a year’s worth of public university education to be 80% of a summer’s worth of minimum wage.  It’s an attainable amount is not a crushing sum if the student decides to travel for a summer of has other unpaid responsibilities, and yet it instills a sense of value in the student for the education.  The student needs some skin in the game…but not a major organ.

In the current debate about student loans, tuition, and higher education I am certainly in the camp of providing students with all the education we can get into them.  In an educated society we can have informed discussions about a host of troubling issues.  I believe a good bit of the difficulty we are having today is because rather than being informed by a good education people are being informed by information bits, some true, some false, and don’t really have the tools to discern one from the other.  The smooth delivery of the factoid they want to be true is the one they pick…so education.

If you are a parent with kids in college you know that the cost of education is ridiculous.  When we were in school in the 80’s the proposal outlined above pretty much held for all public universities, now a summer job is chump change compared with the cost.  Why? Well the facilities are pretty posh, it would be nice to be able to opt out of the student center with the climbing wall for the sake of cost…especially since serious students don’t have much opportunity to use it.  High powered research professors? undergrads seldom see these guys, they give the institution chops but do they contribute to your child’s education…I don’t know.  Whatever the reason, we need to get these cost down to an attainable level, the cost of both the student debt and the lack of education in our society is snowballing.

The Other Price of Freedom

Let’s talk about the other price of freedom. Many of us have people who have served in the military, fathers, brothers, sons, and daughters. Some have died or had their lives changed forever by terrible injuries or memories. It’s certainly easy to see this price for our freedom, it’s pointed out all the time to motivate this or that action or behavior… but there is another price, one that it seems less and less people are willing to pay. It is the price of our safety.
It’s a risk to give your neighbor the freedom to be different from you, but if we don’t pay this price, if we don’t sacrifice our safety, a price that is sometimes paid in blood and violence at home, then neither your neighbor nor you are truly free. You may not like that your neighbor is gay and lives with his partner, or that she is a Muslim and wears her hijab to the store. You may not like it that he burns the flag, HIS flag on HIS front lawn. You may not like the confederate flag in his pickup truck, or that she’s disrespectful to your religion, or our country. That said, if we are a free county it all needs to be allowed.
We all have to follow the law, we should all treat each other with decency, but that doesn’t always happen, and we can’t be both free and safe. Sure, those who step over the line need to be found and punished, it is a travesty that some of the perpetrators of some of the most infamous violence against blacks in the 60’are just now being found out. When actual planned violence can be seen coming it should be stopped, but you can’t just ostracize a whole people because some of them MIGHT be dangerous, what kind of freedom is that, and how long before this preemptive justice is applied to you.
Allowing you only the freedom to do what I like is no freedom at all.


It’s a new year and one of my resolutions is to give this woefully neglected blog a little more attention.  So what have I decided to write about on this auspicious kick off you ask?  Well I’ve decided to write about:

The shiny new health insurance policy we have been blessed with this year.  My employer, and in their defense this is a national trend,  has switched us to a HSA/High deductible plan.  It saves a little on your premium, it saves a lot on the company’s premium, and you can save up for when you get sick since the HSA or “health savings account” can roll over into next year if you don’t use it.  This sounds good right?  We’re pretty healthy, well here comes the sticker shock.  Since you will be paying 100% of the first $3000 you might be surprised to find out that the doctor visit is between $60 and $90.  Multiply that  times how ever many are in your family and it adds up fast.  Now just suppose you need a prescription every month, thyroid around $160 per month, suppose you have a child with ADD, $330 per month, suppose you have more than one.  You’ll burn through that $3000 pretty fast this year…and next year and the year after.

The move to shift health care costs off of employers is national, and I can’t say it’s bad, but the shift to the employee is awful.  I can afford this, or at least it won’t break me, but what about all the people just getting by?  Obamacare was supposed to fix this but it seems like it just made it OK for employers to shift the costs faster.  Wages are stagnant, costs are going up, this system is going to crash and crash hard.  The sad part is it doesn’t have to be this way.

The Fun Size

Well, it’s the day after Halloween and we are left with the “cushion” of several bags of candy that we got just in case the handful of trick or treaters that make it down our 200 yard driveway somehow morphed into a shuffling mob of candy zombies. Well they didn’t so I’m here in my office mustering the courage to set all that chocolate free…unfortunately some of the “Fun Size” bars aren’t going to make it, I am weak!

In the course of my culling of the candy herd, I have notice that the Fun Size bars are…thinner. I think they are the same length and height, the wrapper is even the same size, but the thinner bar has a lot more freedom in the wrapper than it used to. I can only assume that:

  1. They have managed to pack more fun in a smaller package.
  2. They have reduced the fun by about 20%.
  3. There have been cases of too much fun in years past and thank god now we have some regulation.

I suspect it’s number 1 because I seem to be here in my chair just jittering to go release some of this stored fun.  Apparently they contain plenty.  An informal poll of parents of small children indicate that there has been no reduction of wall bouncing fun.  Well I gotta go.


Right now, the rich and powerful are trying to marginalize the group called “Occupy Wall Street.”  They are saying that this mix of blue collar and professional, working and unemployed, fearful and the foreclosed, this group of regular people, don’t have a coherent message, that no one knows what they want.  Well it’s true that they don’t have a public relations rep, or a lobby group but they do have a unifying message.  Their message, and it runs through the whole spectrum of people involved is…are you ready:


Yup, that’s it.  As individuals, they feel they have no voice against injustice.  They are:

POWERLESS to stop being abused by BANKS,

To demand an interest rate that approaches inflation instead of 100 times less than inflation (0.01% last time I looked).

To stop them from using fees as a gotcha profit center.

To demand accountability for their actions and for the use of our bailout money for…what?

POWERLESS to demand that our Government represent us instead of Corporations and whoever can buy their time and attention.

Why can’t we have a choice during an election, we are forced to pick who will do the least damage, the leper with the most fingers and then we are told that we are responsible for his actions.

POWERLESS to control the actions of Corporations.

The corporate person has all the rights that we have but is not held accountable for his actions, his only goal is to maximize profits, and he has a lot more resources to achieve his goals.

POWERLESS to stop the Wall Street and Corporate boards from dismantling and corrupting key institutions for short term gain.

POWERLESS to stop the Health Care Industry and the Insurance Industry from preying upon us at our most vulnerable and blocking every effort to reform them with fear, mistrust, and misinformation.

POWERLESS against a media that is more interested in selling the show, or representing a viewpoint (or an owner), than delivering news and information that could be used for informed decision making.

Here’s a real shocker for you, the Occupy Wall Street crowd and the Tea Party crowd are after the same thing, empowerment.  Unfortunately the Tea Party seems to think the problem is Government and want to remove of it as much as possible.  I believe that the Government is the only one with a stick big enough to represent us against the true enemy of individual and corporate greed and power, unfortunately they appear to be uninterested in representing us.

“The Question” and Yo Mama

If our society is to continue with any resemblance to what we think of as traditional American Society, we, as a people, need to start using “The Question.”  The Question is what you should ask yourself when given a choice or opportunity. It’s a simple thing really, you turn to yourself and ask, “Is this the right thing to do?”

I’ve had long talks with one of my more conservative coworkers about this and he tends to get hung up defining answer, but I contend that the important part is that you ask, with heartfelt sincerity, The Question. The answer, born of whatever rationalizations you can convince yourself of, is for you to work out. For instance, we’d like to give you $30M a year to be our CEO…is this right for the company, for myself, for my family, for the country? Can I justify my taking money that could go to hard working employees or for growing the company?

How about this, if I lay off a division of my company my bottom line will be high enough this year to get a big, multimillion dollar bonus. Is this good for the long term life of the company, or will short term gain benefit me at the cost of many. If you can convince yourself it’s right than do it, the answer to The Question is not nearly as important to society as that you asked, wrestled a little and then decided on an answer you believe to be honest. There are too many situations to make rules, but we have to find a way to institute a societal effort to do the right thing, an expectation that everyone is doing what they think is best. Think about this, if we disagree with someone, say a company president, a politician, or and insurance adjuster, but you believe they are doing their best to answer The Question, we are far more likely to cooperated to find a way to work together.

How is this different from what we have now? After all, we have laws and rules. True, but is it legal, or will I get in trouble, are not questions upon which a good society is built. Game theory has shown time and again that cooperation is mutually beneficial to all, individual benefit at the cost of others is a short term, unsustainable approach…unless you have so much power that others are forced to play on your terms. There have always been those who take at all costs, it’s just that now many of these individuals are out of reach of society as a whole. Worse, the example is bleeding down into society in general and the altruistic are seen as chumps.

Hence, part 2 of our problem, the Mama. If you are in a position of power, wealth or authority, and you are using it to acquire more power, wealth, or authority without asking “The Question,” your Mama should be calling you up and telling you, “Son (or daughter), you are shaming me by taking advantage of all those people.” Instead, it’s more like, “we are so proud of our son (or daughter), they are doing so well, look at what they bought me.”

I’ve tried to teach my kids that doing the right thing has a cost. It might be that you don’t take that last dollar for something you’re selling, but instead ask for a fair return. It might be that you give something back that you don’t have to, like the wrong change at the supermarket; the cashier might have to make your “windfall” up out of her pitiful pay. It might be that you don’t take all of that raise you are offered because the gas prices are hitting the lower wage workers harder than you. It might be that you are injured or even killed trying to help someone.

Sure we’ll get hammered by some opportunistic scum from time to time, but eventually they will be found socially unacceptable, instead of being held up as examples of captains of industry. We can’t wait for others to change, we can only change ourselves…and put pressure on those around us.

We, as a people, need to hold those who are willing ask “The Question” and to pay that price in esteem, instead of that they are somehow naive chumps, so our mama can call us up and say good job, I’m proud of you.


Last Saturday around noon I was about to fire up the lawn mower and mow my lawn for what I hoped was the last time.  Unbeknownst to me, fate had other ideas.  It had pretty much decided I was going to spend my day under a car in the middle of nowhere.

My youngest son is a struggling musician.  He had decided to travel over the mountain to the “Treasure Mountain Festival” in Franklin, West Virginia.  He was going to meet a friend of his and they were going to seek their fortune by casting their musical pearls before the crowds.

The phone rang, I picked it up, “Dad, the brakes went out on the van, don’t worry the van is ok.”

“But are you OK?” I asked in my most fatherly tone, calm, considered.

“Yes, it’s in the church parking lot across from Snowy Mountain Road.”

Turns out he was about as far from anything as he could be on this trip.  Luckily, there was a parking lot across from the stop sign he blew when his brakes stopped working.  It doesn’t behoove a parent to think too much about close calls.  Either you would end up constantly stressed up like a violin string, with the accompanying squawks of a novice fiddler, or you just keep your kids at home, safe and underfoot.

My initial inclination was to tell him to wait there, I would come and WE would fix it.  Before I could say anything, he said that he had called someone and they were coming to get him.  He and that someone have been having a rough patch lately so I figured what the heck, I can fix it.

Now this is a ’91 Astrovan.  I swear that in the night, the nuts and bolts in these things swap between metric and English.  When I work on these things I can never remember which bit is metric and which bit is not so out to the garage and load ALL my tools in the car, wrenches, sockets, a jackstand, big hammer, little hammer, pry bar, flashlight (in hopes on not needing it), and a piece of cardboard, because you never can tell where the boy has parked (and hence what you have to lay in).

An hour later I arrive.  I quickly find where the line has ruptured, which as it turns out is not too bad a place.  I don’t think it will be too bad to fix.  I even get it apart with less difficulty than I have any right to expect.  Fate is toying with me.

The part off, I drive 20 minutes to Franklin, site of the ongoing Treasure Mountain Festival; food, music, Civil War reenactment, and a great parade.  A lot of towns in West Virginia are built in a wide spot along a river.  A lot of them have one road in, one road out, and no good way around.  From the direction I was coming, Franklin was like that.  I pulled up to the parade route just as it started.  The Treasure Mountain parade is something to behold, bands, dance school exhibitions, civil war characters, politicians, and tractors.  There was probably 20 minutes of John Deere tractors alone, and I got to see them all, because all the stores in Franklin were closed for the festival anyway.

The parade clear, I head up the road another 40 minutes to the next town, Petersburg.  Sure enough, I see a good sized part store.  They should have just what I need.  I pull up to a dark store and see that they had closed 20 minutes ago, that would have been about when I saw the Indians in the parade.  Well, the Indians were cool, the all shot their guns and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss them.  Besides, this gave me an opportunity to practice my organic language skills.

The next town is Moorefield, another 30 minutes or so.  There was indeed an open parts store with everything I needed, tubing, tubing flair tool, tubing bender, tubing cutter. I left the store considerably less weighed down by negotiable worldly assets.

The road back was beautiful.  It runs a good bit along the river, and with the leaves turning, and the sunset was worth the cost of having to work in the dark, and dark it was.  With the help of my blazer’s headlights and a variable brightness flashlight (you could adjust the brightness by banging it), everything went pretty well.  For those of you who don’t do auto or house repairs this translates as, I didn’t break anything else while I fixed this.

With everything back together, I put the tire back on and lowered the car.  I put away my tools and took it for a test drive.  The brakes still need bleeding but they work well enough.  I have to leave the van for him to pick up since he’s spending the night with a friend so I threw in the keys and head home, it’s about 10pm.  About half way home I remember that I went from letting the van down to putting the jack in the back.  I had skipped an important step; I hadn’t tightened up the lug nuts.  So, back I go hoping that he hadn’t come to get it, not because the wheel would fall off.  I knew where he was spending the night and it wasn’t far, but because I didn’t want to have to tighten the lug nuts in his friends yard.  As luck would have it, it was still there and I got away with it.

I finally got home around 11:30, my wife was a little worried since I told her it would only take a couple of hours.  I was gratefully wrong.  What kind of story would that have been?

Health Care, What’s Broke? (Besides me I mean)

We are in the midst of what some call a health care crisis in this country.  The insurance companies say the medical costs are rising too fast.  The employers say the insurance costs are rising too fast.  We just see the cost of our health care rising, in many cases, out of reach.  We seem to pay more and more for less and less.

Is there anything in the system that we can fix?  Hmmm, well let’s take a stroll through the system and see if we can see what’s broke.

We take our child to the doctor, the doctor looks at him and prescribes some treatment.  If we are lucky, it works and our child gets better.  Seems like that part of the system works ok, even though sometimes with a serious illness a doctor is only about one step removed from shaking a rattle.  Still there is an honest effort to make the patient better.  A service is provided

Now in most every doctors office there is a person behind a desk whose whole function is to figure out how to get paid by the patient’s health insurance company.  They submit the bill and sometimes the insurance company pays it.  Or sometimes the insurance company pays some of it, or rejects it.  Then it’s this person’s job to bill you for the balance of the bill, SURPRISE!

In your mailbox you get a bill from the doctor that tells you how much the insurance company paid and how much you need to pay, only wait, this was a covered expense and you already paid the copay so what’s up with this.  So you pick up the phone and call the insurance company, maybe for an hour or more, at work!  Finally you think you have resolution, only to find out someone has dropped the ball and you get another bill, this one overdue.  So on the phone again, at work!

This has gotten so bad that there are companies whose whole function is to deal with your insurance company for you.  Yup, you or maybe if you’re lucky, your company (who is probably tired of all that time on the phone) pays someone to make the insurance company do what you pay them to do.  Kind of like hiring someone to watch the kid you hired to mow your lawn, hey kid you missed a spot.

So let’s see, we have a doctor who provides a service and you who, in a roundabout way, pay for it.  You pay for it with your premium, and with the portion you employer pays, which is really just another form of your wages.  So don’t let anyone say you don’t pay your own health care.  The only advantage you get by having it through your employer is he gets a better deal per person than you can ever get by insuring the whole company.

History Lesson, insurance was invented to spread risk.  If 100 ships go out to sea and in a year 10 are lost, all 100 owners will put a small amount into a fund and whoever happens to own the 10 lost ships splits the fund.  Next year you do it all over again.  If a trusted company holds these funds and invests them or loans them they can make a profit with the money, until they have to pay the owners of the lost ships.  It used to be that way for health insurance until some smart guy realized that if we only insure healthy people, or only insure cheap stuff, we get to keep all the money not just the return on the investment.

Today we have an insurance company who wants to maximize profits.  They collect all your premiums in the form of money deducted from your wages and the wages you never see in the form of EMPLOYER CONTRIBUTION.  Then their goal is to keep as much of this money as possible.

Wait, wait, the doctor performed the service, you got the service, why should the insurance company get to keep all that money, what did they do?  On top of that they are difficult enough to deal with that the doctor has to hire a specialist.  They are difficult enough to deal with that you have to hire a specialist, and for what?  In the end, doctors get paid by all of us.  Sometimes I pay for your child’s ear infection, sometimes you pay for my wife’s heart attack, but WE pay for EVERYTHING!  Insurance companies just skim off all they can and then pass through what they have to.  Insurance companies could evaporate tomorrow and if it was done right, we wouldn’t even know they were gone.

So why does it seem like we so intent on keeping this bloated parasite of an industry intact?  Well, of course there is the obvious answer that they have bought considerable interest in our government but that isn’t the only answer.  Take a look at your retirement fund, I bet it’s pretty heavily invested in health care industry.  HMO’s and insurance companies own a good portion of your retirement, and of grandma’s as well.  If we dismantle the insurance industry we hurt a lot of people in fixed income.

They are kind of like the parasitic worm that causes river blindness, if we leave it alone it destroys our eyes, but if you kill it, it can drive you mad.  So we leave it in place, root hairs wrapped tightly around some of the most economically vulnerable, and in the mean time the industry subverts our government with millions of dollars and pays the high level insiders even more millions in annual salary.

You know what?  I think I’d rather be mad than blind.

Capt’n Randy


Every since I was a kid watching Flipper, I’ve always wanted to ride in on of those air boats in the everglades. Last week, while visiting my brother in Ft. Lauderdale, six of us went out into the everglades with Capt’n Randy. We drove out to a landing in the everglades and met him beside the water. This was a guy that would be hard not to like, friendly, funny and we found out he knew a lot about the ‘glades.

The first thing he says to me is, “you look just like a friend of mine, JD Gator. I sure hope you’re a lot smarter’n him though.”

We loaded up, the six of us and the capt’n. My dad was up in the highest seat beside the Capt’n. These things really fly, and it doesn’t necessarily need any water either. Mud or grass will do just fine. With a Corvette big block and a composite four blade prop this tourist boat (a little bigger than you would use for fishing or hunting) could do 50mph with virtually no wake.

p2080119We saw a lot of wildlife, mostly gators and birds. The gators didn’t care about us but most of the birds we saw from behind. Capt’n Randy told us about his Grandfather who, in the ‘60s, was changed from an alligator hunter to an alligator poacher. Well, I’ll testify to the fact that there is no shortage of gators out there. They are everywhere. I’d say there are more gators in the everglades than there are deer here in West Virginia where I live.

He showed us some of the camps that have been in the everglades for generations. You can almost hear the parties that some of them must have had, there were very few railings so you know someone got wet.

Randy told us about going out at night. He says the moon is enough light to ride with only your nav lights on. He did say that you needed goggles and a bandanna over your mouth to keep from getting “redneck drive through,” a euphemism for a bug lunch, but he says it’s beautiful, and in the summertime, it’s cool after the heat of the hot Florida sun.p2080127

p2080133On the way back my dad got a turn at driving this beautiful machine. It had dual steering controls; you push the lever down to go one way and pull it up to go the other. He’s good with machines and he did really well. Then my brother took a turn and even though he started out in a narrow little channel he got the hang of it quick. Unfortunately we got back to the landing before any of the rest of us had a chance to drive but I guarantee I’m going back, I gotta get me one of those things.

Slacker Beavers

beaver-damI sure everyone has heard the expression “busy as a beaver.” Well I’m here to tell you that there is a slacker subculture in the beaver community.

I have some beavers in the creek behind my house and they aren’t busy at all. They started building a dam and I was fascinated by how they were going about it. First they pushed up a pile of rocks across the creak. Then the started with the sticks. First I thought there was going to be some interesting instinctual plan but it started to look like they just put their trash on top of their pitiful pile of rocks. Beavers eat the bark off of branches leaving a branch of stripped wood. That stripped wood was piled on top of the rocks all willy nilly like in the yard of the shiftless bunch I’m sure you all have somewhere in your town. Well in spite of this leaky lame dam it did collect a small pool behind it. I kept expecting them to work more and make something larger but they didn’t. They seemed satisfied with the little “one pond shack” they had constructed.

Well then it rained and the water can get up pretty high in my creek, and it’s fast. The next day the beaver’s dam was gone. I expected to see some real action now. I had heard about beavers repairing dam damage over night. I waited, nothin’. Every day I’d go back and look, nuthin’. Now I don’t know if they were waiting for their insurance adjuster or FEMA but it was like 2 weeks before they got around to even starting. I dunno, maybe they were in loss counciling or something. Anyway they have finally started building again, but they are slow. I plan on getting out to see them at night if it freezes so I can get across the creek at night, and I fully expect to see them with their little beaver skateboards or one of the other slacker pastimes whiling away the night when they should be building.

Savings, America’s Capital Depreciation Fund

Peter Peterson, the founder of the Blackstone group is lamenting the lack of personal savings in the US. He says this is a bigger problem than the current recession. He may be right when he says that since there is no domestic savings, foreign countries holding our debt can hold our economy hostage.
Unfortunately he blames our attitude of “want it now” for out lack of savings. Here he is dead wrong. If you go and open a savings account these days you will find out two things.

1) You will likely pay a fee for having a savings account.

2) The interest rate you receive on your savings will likely be well below inflation.

Bottom line, when you save, YOU LOSE MONEY.

I don’t know about you but I can’t see why the interest rate on savings shouldn’t be some percentage of the loan rate, AND it should always be better than inflation. The banks are jerking us around, charging fees everywhere they can, keeping savings interest rates low, and now using our tax dollars to pay exec salaries and bonuses. Mr. Peterson has a lotta sand to sit in his fancy suit and talk to us about how bad we are for not saving.

Maybe in our little way by not saving we are telling the MARKET that we want change. But why should they change, if we don’t give them enough at the teller window, they’ll get it from our tax bill.

Consumer Confidence

gift_boxSo today the government decided to try to improve consumer spending by investing in the consumer debt market. Treasure Secretary Paulson thinks that by freeing up personal credit we consumers can go on with Christmas as usual. Come on guys, only a moron would go out on a buying spree in this climate. We are cutting Christmas to the bone. The companies we are bailing out are continuiong to increase fees and premiums while holding posh seminars on our dollars.

Now if you really wanted to boost consumer confidence, instead of investing in companies that have already sucked all we can afford out of the economy, why don’t we put a couple of billion into…education.

Yup, if you want to boost MY consumer confidence you could help me be confident of the college education of my kids. With one in college, one starting next year, and the last the year after, if a couple of billion were spent so every child with say a B average gets a free college education, it would go a long way to improve my confidence. I am a firm believer that education improves society so what’s to lose. Sure we need to make sure it’s not just a party, but the VA and most existing scholarships already do this. Instead of keeping some fat cat in his fine house, lets send our kids to school.

If you did this Mr. Paulson, I’d make my Christmas gift list much longer, I’d even send you something nice.

The Choice That’s No Choice

In a political Spam-mail, John McCain is telling me about his health plan. He’s telling me about choices, telling me how I can make all these choices under his plan. It seems to me that the freedom to choose without choices is no freedom at all.

When in the last 20 years have we had any choices in health care that have not been legislated? Oh, we’ve always had to chose between which provider will hurt us the least, which provider will increase the premiums least, or which provider will pay the plan doctors in a timely fashion (so your personal physician won’t drop the plan or make you pre-pay). These choices are little more than a game of choose the rapist.

This plan smells suspiciously like it will be manipulated to benefit the insurance companies before it’s done. These are the companies that we trust to sell us at a fair price, health care for our families. The company I work at is mostly self insured, a couple of years ago my premiums went up 13%. Of that, 4% was due to increased health costs, the other 9% was an increase in the cost of our insurance carrier’s administrative services, the ABYSMAL administrative services.

If you want to read a real Pollyanna analysis of McCains health care program read: Fortunes’s “Why McCain has the Best Health-Care Plan” It Explains how employers will pass their savings on to the employee…because of the competitive labor market- huh? is that why wages have been stagnant since 2002? It also tells how the magical fairies of deregulation will use their wands of competition and bring the evil price beast to it’s knees. Just think of how these selfless little magical beasts have made life better, airlines, phone companies, savings and loans, banks.

So, I ask you Mr. McCain, what choices are you giving me really?


I just finished reading a commentary on CNN by a CEO named Carl Schramm. Carl, bless his heart, is lamenting the threat of a wave of government intervention in our economy. He wrings his hands and seems to say that since there is a danger of bad things happening the government should keep its hands off of the economy. Laissez Faire is the holy grail of economic prosperity.

Well Mr. Schramm, Laissez-Faire is what caused this melt down in the first place; following the buck isn’t always what’s best for society.

I wrote in an earlier post (Banks- or- I wish Adam Smith’s invisible hand would stop touching me there.) about the banking industry charging fees everywhere they can.

Health insurance companies are giving minimum services for whatever the market will bear and cutting off whoever they can who need their services.

We are bailing out the financial industry, all the while being berated for being too greedy, using too much credit, and not being careful about our investment. I must have been hit in the head because I don’t remember all that.

Politicians are telling us how we are going to have to sacrifice. Why? Because we have had so much benefit from this boom? What are the beneficiaries of this recent financial boom going to sacrifice?

I don’t know if anyone has noticed but wages have been stagnant since 2002. Our free market choices have degraded to a game of pick your rapist in banking, health insurance, and retirement. Our political system has long been a system of voting against the most odious candidate but now it has moved onto other parts of our life.

The most frustrating part is, there is no one to pressure for change. Faceless Corporate America is a tough target with no one responsible for its decisions. Not that I would expect a 40 or 60 million dollar a year CEO to take any responsibility.

I could push for change if only I could find a place to push. I feel like Archimedes, I could move the world if only I could fine a place for the lever. Well maybe it’s more like Sisyphus and his rock.


I am, even as I type, listening to Senator Obama speak for the bailout. He made a statement that has been used time and time again when asking the American People to get in line and cooperate. He said, “we will all have to sacrifice.”

Well, news flash for you Mr. Obama, and you Mr. Bush, We have been sacrificing.

I would ask how are you gentlemen are going to sacrifice? Is there any way that YOUR families are going to have to suffer, give up, sacrifice, for the good of our country? OUR families may have to postpone college, lose jobs, hold down multiple jobs, fail.

What will you personally sacrifice, as an example, so we can, in good conscience, sit at our supper tables and tell our children that they have to sacrifice their future, for the good of our country?

Your Economy, My Economy

President Bush warned, “We are in the midst of a serious financial crisis. Our entire economy is in danger.”

I would say to him that YOUR entire economy is in danger, MINE is already in the tank. With sub-inflation rate raises for the last several years, rising health insurance costs, children in colleges with rising costs and reduced student aid, sky high gasoline and heating prices, my world had been in a pinch for quite a while.

Well Mr. President, now that YOUR economy might feel a pinch and the multimillion dollar CEO’s are hurting, well something must be done. Drop everything and bail’em out.

Some kind of health care reform will have to wait.

Maybe we can afford to educate the next generation, this one will have to fend for itself.

Here’s your sound Bite

I received a bullshit survey from one of the political parties the other day. Which one doesn’t really matter since they are both cut from the same cloth. It was designed for sound bites, not to find out what difficulties I and my family are experiencing. If you really want to find out what I think, hire yourself someone who can write a survey and not leading questions for numbers in your next speech.

You people are out of touch with what is going on out here. Pull your head out of wherever it is and stop worrying about winning, that will take care of itself if you can really address the needs of the people.

I’m only one person, but here’s what I think you would see if you lived in the real world.

I see double digit inflation right around the corner and no salary increases to counter it, assuming you keep your job.

I see my insurance rates last year rising %13 and even though my company is self insured, the insurance company that administers the plan raised their rates 9% so only %4 was due to medical expenses.

I see us becoming huge raw materials exporter, that used to be one of the measures of a third world country, but here we are. Our engineers are in India, our manufacturing is in China, who is going to be able to buy anything here.

So there you are. There’s some of my answers. Call me and I’ll give you more if you like.

Day 7 A Dumas nearly causes a riot

chateau d'if

We stayed and extra day so we could see some of the local sites. One of Marseille’s really interesting places to see is the Chateau D’If, the setting of “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexaner Dumas. I knew I wanted to visit it when I saw it from the Notre Dame de la Garde, the cathedral high above Marseille.

Four of us took the metro down to the old harbor to catch the ferry. The day was hot, the line was long, and tempers were short. Things were going alright until suddenly, without warning, they opened another window. For some reason the people from the back of the line were able to best capitalize on this development. There was some grumbling but we were pretty far along the line so most near us just shrugged it off. After about a half an hour, they closed the window again and all the people from the back of the line started to shift into the line we were in. No one was happy, there was a lot of muttering but no physical threats. Some time and some ticklish merging later, we were at the ticket window. We asked the girl at the window, “what was the deal with closing the window.” She said, “I have no idea, I’m from Germany.”

With our tickets in hand we went over to the mob waiting to board the boat. This was another long wait. Finally the boat arrived, the gate was about to open, and some guy wearing a motorcycle helmet jumped the fence and ran for the boat. The ticket guy threw his clipboard down and ran after him. We never saw the guy with the helmet again, even though there was only one way off the pier, well actually two, but only one dry one.

The ticket man came back looking angry, he milled around near the gate a bit, then did a surprising thing. He went over to another side gate and opened it. At this point the crowd thought he was punishing them for…letting the helmeted man go? I have not idea, but when he opened the gate, the crowd got really ugly. I really thought they were going to take apart the gate. What I think the guy was really doing was letting the locals and a school group board first, but now he started shouting too. I was glad we were kind of on the side where we could kind of step out and enjoy the show cause it would be hard to pick a side and participate. Eventually he opened the main gate and we all boarded. Before we left the ticket guy came on and apologized…I think.

Off we went to the island If, home of the Chateau D’if. It was well worth the trip. The place was sometimes used for a prison, and sometimes for a home for royal hostages. There was grafitii in some of these rooms hundreds of years old. It looked pretty gloomy but when you think that it’s usually really hot so the thick walls would be cool. Add candles and tapestries to the walls and the bigger rooms could be pretty comfortable, if you weren’t there against your will. One big difference between the real thing and the Chateau D’if you see in the “Count of Monte Cristo” movies is that there is no vast series of underground dungeons. This place is built on top of a rock. There is nothing underground, just rock. It’s big, but only big up. This place reminded me of and expression I heard once, “in Europe a hundred years is a short time and a hundred miles a long trip, in the US a hundred years is a long time and a hundred miles is a short trip.”

Day 5 Bouillabaisse

One of Marseille’s signature dishes is bouillabaisse, a bunch of us decided we needed to try it. Armed with a reservation at what was recommended by the hotel as a good place for bouillabaisse we headed off after the conference, which happened to be the rush hour in Marseille. It really didn’t matter because the metro had plenty of capacity, but there were more people, and there was a lot more security.

One thing I never get used to is automatic weapons in airports. I don’t know if you travel much but lately in US airports there are a lot more machine gun toting security guards. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind them there, I just can’t get used to them.

In Europe these security guards are pretty much everywhere. At rush hour on the metro there were two rows of them watching everyone coming down the stairs and into the station. We had to wait because one of our party had trouble with her ticket. While I waited I noticed something odd. The first row of security was unarmed, the SECOND row of security had automatic weapons. My question was, what was the first row for, to slow down the bad guys?

We got to the restaurant and sat down outside overlooking the old harbor. It was a beautiful night, and a beautiful setting.

Since we were on a bouillabaisse mission, let me describe bouillabaisse. It’s fish soup. Yup, fish soup, good fish soup mind you, but fish soup all the same. So it came as a bit of a surprise that this was going to cost more than any meal on the whole trip. I think of the 5 of us, 4 had the soup. I really liked it. With a curry-like stock and three kinds of fish it was what you would expect a fishing city’s people to make when times were tough. I find it interesting that time and time again, local “poor food” becomes the expensive tourist cuisine.

This restaurant was also where we learned never to ask a French waiter to hurry with the check. We said one of our party had to catch the bus so would you please bring the check. It took a good forty minutes! I like that they don’t hurry you out, but when you have to make a bus you’d think they would accommodate you. In the end we had to use the metro and a taxi because we did miss the last bus. It was no big deal but it was an important lesson in French behavior. I wonder if the restaurants have a deal with the taxis.

Day 5 Cathedral

I had some time today so I went to the old part of town to look for presents for the family. I had thought I had this pretty much handled when I was walking and found a guitar shop near my hotel. All my kids play guitar so I thought some nice French straps or picks or something. No chance, there was not a single thing in that store that was French. There was not even a pick that had French writing on it. So down town I headed.

I had similar problems shopping down town. There are really very few “French” things. Oh, there is wine and cheese but I was surprised that there are so few French products. I finally settled on some local soap made with lavender and some local chocolate made with olive oil.

Shopping done it was time for a look around. I am kind of nut about old buildings, so I walked to every old fort and church I could find. There was a lot of beautiful Romanesque architecture down around the old harbor, but there was a big cathedral way up on the hill called “Notre Dame de la Garde that I had to get to. The long bus ride to a church that already looked big should have been a clue to how really really huge this church was. This place was awesome. It was built like a fortress. The church proper was on a rock about 40 feet tall. To get in there was a staircase to a drawbridge, a thick studded door, a portcullis, and another door. If they say they are closed, they are closed! There were paintings of local ships lost at sea, paintings of WWI and WWII planes down nearby. There were other paintings of these pilots being helped and hidden by the nuns and priests. The painted vaulted ceilings were incredible, and the church is topped by a truly huge statue of Mary. The stone work was beautiful, colored stone and incredible workmanship. I’m an engineer and am impressed by such things so I could go on for ever, but I won’t. But if you go, it’s worth the trip. Outside there were shell marks earned in the liberation of Marseille and you could see the countryside for miles around. As I walked back to the bus stop I had an excellent view of the Chateau d’if, the lodging of the Alexander Dumas’s Count of Monte-Cristo. I promised myself I would try to get out there.

I sat down at the bus stop that I shared with about 10 other people, old people, families, just regular people. I was on the end next to the curb, and a young guy and girl sat down there just outside the bus stop. I sat looking out over the city and saw them take out a couple of cigarettes. She lit hers but he took his apart. This caught my attention. He set the tobacco aside and took out a small bit of what looked like a bullion cube, but it wasn’t a bullion cube. He started heating it up with his lighter and crumbling bits of it into his hand. I thought, “he’s going to smoke some hash right here in front of all these people.” Nobody but me seemed to notice but I was fascinated by his audacity. He mixed the hash in with the tobacco and was about to re-roll the cigarette when the bus came. Not to worry, he just moved about 10 feet down the curb and finished up and got on the bus with the rest of us.

A 900 year old church and hash at a bus stop, this is definitely not America.

Day 3 What a Meal

Following the…less than stellar choices I made at the last dinner I nonetheless looked forward to another try at French cuisine. Tonight I was the fifth wheel to two couples (two of our happy travelers troupe had brought their wives). We picked a restaurant from the map provided by the conference organizers that was within walking distance from our hotels. Our inability to notice the three stars next to the “word” budget led us to believe that this was a budget restaurant. As it turns out it had three stars out of four on the budget scale so the Euros flowed freely. This was not really a surprise since we were asked if we had a reservation when we came to the door. Luckily she took us in anyway.

Let me take a moment to talk about Euros. It is impossible to think of them as anything but dollars. Unfortunately, they aren’t, they are about $1.56. So when you are shopping for trinkets to bring home to the fam and you find a nice bit of jewelry for say $25, you say “Self, that’s not too bad,” then, as you ride home on the metro you realize you have actually spent closer to $40. By far the hardest to get used to is that the little quarter looking things, which come in one and two Euro flavors are actually worth $1.55 or $3.10. They are very pretty money though with a silver center and a gold band around the outside. Every country in the EU has a different back and it’s fun to guess where they have come from.

So it was much easier to tell myself that we had an excellent meal for $40 instead of 40 Euros and I am happy in my delusion.

This most excellent meal started with a round of truffles on toast. These are the special mushrooms that they hunt with specially trained pigs. I love mushrooms and I heartily enjoyed them. I felt guilty about not being overwhelmed by the awesome taste though. I have read about truffles my whole life and I expected something, I don’t know, remarkable. They were good mushrooms but…maybe part of what makes one appreciate the overwhelming worth of truffles is to have a hand in the training and handling of the hunting pigs.

There was a salad with a wonderful mix of different greens, the bitter and the sweet made a subtle blend of tastes. This was followed but excellent salmon, (ok I was playing a little safe).

We had the house wine and I discovered something that I personally found no exception to throughout the trip, even the house wine in France is better than most of the wine I buy at home.

For dessert, a caramel flan, simple but nicely done.

In France you will never get the bill until you ask for it. If you sit there for 3 hours no one will be leaning on you to leave. So you have to ask for the check, but never, never, never ask them to hurry. We did this once later in the week when we wanted to catch the last bus. That waiter took a good 40 minutes to get the check. Anyway this check came with a shot of aperitif, we had melon or apple to chose from. A little booze always makes a bill taste better. Our waiter, and I suspect our cook, helped us tourists with our menu throughout the meal because he spoke the best English in the place, and even had a shot with us.

In my whole trip the only place I saw the legendary French surliness was at the bank. Maybe what some American tourists see as surliness is really that the French don’t suffer jerks, and they don’t take if for granted that you not a jerk until you prove otherwise.


We arrived having breezed through customs. Via bus, and metro (subway) we got to our hotels. Our first big surprise is that Marseille pretty much rolls up its sidewalks on Sunday. There were a few sidewalk cafés open but most everything was closed. As luck would have it, one of the open cafés was just outside of one of our hotels. We sat down to an good meal and mostly stared into space. We were majorly jet lagged. Once fed, it was time for a nap, exciting times!

A couple of hours later we went met up again and decided to walk down to the Mediterranean Sea. I can vouch for the fact that it is indeed there. So, our geography verified we were hungry again. We headed back.

Standing on a corner we took turns saying, “I don’t know, where do you want to eat?” Right in front of me one of the ubiquitous mopeds wrecked into the curb and another moped. I lifted the bike off of this kid and tried to do the first aid thing, but he didn’t understand a word. “Stay down, stay down, don’t get up, well at least don’t get up fast, are you hurt, you’re laughing at me, so I guess not.” He gathered up the pieces of his moped and left, apparently unscathed.

After much deferential discussion, “you decide, no you decide,” we went to the same café where we ate lunch. Now at lunch I learned the French word for lamb, which I have since forgotten. But at this meal I was destined to learn a French word that I will never forget. I asked the waiter what andouillete was. He answered “pork,” so I, with visions of a pork chop, or roast pork, said, exercising the full extent of my French language skills, “andouillette por favor.” In the fullness of time it arrived. I was a little disappointed to see that it was a sausage, but I like pork sausage so it was still all good. As a rule, I TRY not to pay too much attention to what’s in exotic food till after I taste it. Without looking too close I cut off a piece of the sausage and popped it into my mouth. This sausage rates as one of the worst tasting, worst smelling things I have ever seen passed as food. It’s made from parts of a pig that never should be eaten. I had unsuspectingly stumbled upon the French “betcha can’t eat this food.” All societies have one of these, Mexican menudo, Scottish haggis, and French andouillete. (

So I did the only thing I could, I offered some to everyone else, I had 3 takers. One even managed to put a little in his mouth, but not for long.

Day 1 Travel

The most grueling part of this kind of trip is the plane ride, mostly it’s long, boring and cramped. This is compounded by the necessity to drive for 4 hours to get to the airport. That said, the trip was not unpleasant, mostly because the Delta flight I was on was what they call, Code Sharing, with Air France. What this means is that we were flying on Air France, with believe it or not, good food, great wine, and mostly on time departures.

We’ll Always have Marseille

I had the opportunity to travel to Marseille, France with some people I work with, to attend a conference and deliver 2 papers. It was an exciting trip and I promised some of my friends I would write about it. You Bill Bryson whine fest fans will be disappointed because I had a great time, I see the things that go wrong more like Patrick F. McManus, when he tells a story of being wet cold and stranded you wish you could be there too.

Walmart – Always Lower.

So, I’m watching TV and a commercial comes on. This woman is asking this obnoxious sales clerk why his prices on name brand electronic are so high. The sales guy squirms and looks even more slimy but the perky shopper says again, “why are your prices for NAME BRAND electronics so high and WALMART’s so low.” Well obviously since it’s a Walmart commercial he doesn’t answer her, but I will! It’s because they aren’t even the same product. That’s right, a Walmart Sony for instance, isn’t a real Sony, it’s a specially contracted, specially manufactured product made just for Walmart with the Sony name on it and with every possible corner cut to make the price lower. When it fails, Sony might not even be the one’s to service it, or like the Mongoose bike I bought my son, they might have a “special” service section for Walmart bikes. With my son’s bike you find out when you get it home that the manual even says that the bikes sold at Walmart are not the same.

So here’s this Ad, inferring that the only difference in the name brand products sold at Walmart is the price, when in reality, the name brands sold at Walmart, everything from clothing and shoes to televisions, are cut rate look alike products with a fancy name.

I remember when Walmart meant American made, it meant middling quality. Now they stick to the motto, always lower prices, on cut rate products. Why do I shop here, well since they’ve driven nearly every other store out of town I don’t have much choice, but I do go there last so I can see if I can get what I need ANYWHERE else.


Well, the dirt eatin’, ears ringin’, heart poundin’ season opened last Friday. Yup, the 2008 season started at the local 3/8’s mile dirt track. As it happens, I share a stock car, ol’ 94, with another guy and we trade off driving. I gotta say, it’s more fun than humans should have.

This is our third year, and I have to tell you that stock car driving is one of those things that looks easy from the stands but really takes some getting used to when you are in the fast chair.

For starters, you can’t see. That’s probably the biggest difference between stock car racing and just going fast on the road. You have on a helmet, which may be tied to your seat, so you can’t turn your head. Instead of glass you have screen in the windshield and net in the side window, not bad when you get used to it but at first it’s hard to see through it. There are no mirrors, you kind of “use the force” to know somebody is coming up behind you, and come they do! You think you’re just flying, “wow mom look how fast I’m goin’,” and all of the sudden swoosh, a car passes you like you’re stopped.

All your instincts are wrong too. Suppose you’re on the freeway, and there is a car on each side of you but just say a fender length ahead of you. Now suppose the freeway narrows down to two lanes and the two cars begin to move into your lane. Well of course you’ll back off the gas and shift back behind them, defensive driving and all that… well not on the track, if you’re on a good line and headed into a corner, you push on the gas. It’s ok to rub a little and you can rub your way right past them because you’re on the fastest line through the turn, assuming you don’t all spin. And you haven’t lived until you’ve spun in the middle of a pack of cars.

Now since I share driving, I also share watching. You see a lot of interesting people in the stands. Of course there are the experts who have never been in a race, but they’re just boring. The amusing people are the ones, usually crew or family, who sit in the pit stands and try to give signals to their driver. Now I can tell you, in the car you don’t even SEE people in the stands, they are just something not to hit. There’s too much going on to see somebody waving their hands around off the track. The funniest though is when they try to signal the driver to pass, just what the hell do they think he’s doing out there. There is really only three things the driver is trying to do:

1. Pass the guy in front of him.

2. Don’t get passed by the guy behind him.

3. Don’t smash up the car, at least not real bad.

Pretty much in that order.

Now I would never tell them that their driver can’t see them, in fact I’ve advised them that they most certainly can be seen but they have to make the signals big, REALLY BIG! Heck, now it’s almost like watching one of those modern dance routines.

Back in Time with the New Subprime

I feel like I’ve gone back in time and I didn’t even get to drive a tricked out Delorian.

Didn’t we have a deal a few years back where we, those of us with jobs and mortgages, bailed out them, the saving and loan executives who sat behind big desks when we got our mortgages and asked us important questions about our worth as human beings in society? We saved their sorry butts and they went back to their McMansions in their gated communities in TEARS. It took days before their friends could get them out of thier houses and get them started in their new life as high paid lobbyists.

Now here we are again, institutions that ran subprime mortgage companies (some of them lived in the COUNTRY and had a lot of TIME) made a lot of money and paid their important exec big bucks. Now the chickens have come home to roost, be butchered, or I don’t know what, and who is going to have to pay? Well the people who benefited most from these risky practices and questionable advertising and misrepresentation, right? I’m sure that with what we learned with the Savings and Loan problems that our governmental representatives have put new measures in place so this time they will march right down and make the people responsible pay. Heck, how hard will it be to garnish their wages since they’re right there lobbying anyway.

No folks, we will pay. We who can’t even get an interest rate on our savings account that matches inflation. And when it’s all over, and we’ve made everything right, you can rest assured that your reward will be another set of rules and regulations that help out the banking business.

Remember bankruptcy reform? Men in fine suits talking about how irresponsible credit use had to be curbed. What he didn’t say was that most revolved credit card debt is:

1) Medical Bills (duh)

2) Car Repairs (gotta get to work)

3) Emergency Travel (Mom died)

How dare they be so irresponsible!!

Now shut up and leave me alone, I gotta fix this flux capacitor so I can get back to the future. I’m gonna look so I can get in on the next big bailout, I hope I can sleep at night though, this darn conscience is a real liability in this business.

Banks- or- I wish Adam Smith’s invisible hand would stop touching me there.

Adam Smith

Let’s talk about banks. I remember, back in ancient times when I was in school, being taught that banks pay you interest to keep your money and use your money to make loans and investments. From the loans and investments they make their money. In other words, they pay you to borrow your money, and you pay them to borrow the money that someone else has loaned them. Simple right, but something has happened. I can’t understand why the interest you receive for any kind of deposit doesn’t AT LEAST match the inflation rate. The experts always say Americans don’t save enough but why should we, if you save in a typical saving account you are losing money. If inflation’s 3.5 to 4% and your savings are getting 1.5 to 2%, less fees for EVERYTHING, you are losing a nice little chunk of change. Meanwhile, your full SERVICE bank is charging probably 9 to 15% for non-home loans while charging you for everything.

Not only are they charging for everything, but they are finding ways to develop new profit centers. Take debit cards for instance. When these things started, they were perfect for new young adults, use them like a credit card but when you were out of money they stopped working. No more! The Banks fixed them so they will continue to charge, just like a credit card but with a fee for EACH PURCHASE. Oh, and if a purchase includes a security deposit, like rentals do with credit cards, and the seller doesn’t tell you, like they do with credit cards because it automatically clears before it matters, the money comes out of your account immediately. So if you rent some ski equipment and they put a fee on your care equal to the value of the equipment, then you return the equipment and go have dinner, that deposit will probably still be hanging around, maybe for a couple of days. Now each purchase you make gets wacked with an overdraft fee. You buy some Chapstick, that’s a $35 purchase. I don’t know what the reasoning was behind the change but it probably was something like, save the customer the embarrassment of being refused. Hell, if it’s gonna cost me $35, embarrass me. Sure if it’s a choice of getting arrested for a bad check or the fee I’ll take the fee, but these card systems are more sophisticated than that!

I think that the reason they do it this way is because they can!